What has always been speculated without proof has now been confirmed; eSwatini has become a big brother state as police are now armed with highly sophisticated technology that allows them to intercept and listen to telephone conversations and read their text messages without leaving a trace.

This information has been revealed as part of Swazi Secrets leaks stories, a cross-border investigation that reveals the country´s unexplored role as a possible conduit in southern Africa’s gold smuggling economy. According to the leaks, the Swazi police have been assisted by the Israeli company to obtain a Verint Engage PI2 Tactical Location System, a highly sophisticated spying machine.

Israel is currently involved in what others call a war of extermination against the Palestinian population leading many human rights organisations in the world to promote an economic and cultural boycott and disinvestment campaign against Israel products and companies. Often called a “spying machine on steroids,” the Israeli device, now allegedly in the hands of the Swazi state, can simultaneously intercept and record hundreds of phone calls and SMSs without leaving a trace.

A phone signal grabber or IMSI-catcher is one of the most powerful devices for conducting surveillance and invading your privacy – legally or illegally. According to South African media reports, this little beauty can perform loads of magic tricks including cloning your phone, intercepting calls and SMSes, turning your phone into a transmitter and much, much more.

The documents that reveal this were obtained by Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit devoted to publishing and archiving leaks, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. ICIJ coordinated a team of 38 journalists across 11 countries to explore the documents. Part of the information revealed by the journalists is that the country´s authorities came across payments involving Minister of Finance Neil Rijkenberg’s companies.

The investigation revealed that on September 2017, South African commercial bank First National Bank sent the EFIU a suspicious activity report concerning its client, Usutu Forest Products, when it transferred funds to U.S.-Israeli cyber firm Verint, which Amnesty International found to have sold sensitive surveillance technology to the South Sudanese government “despite the high risk that the equipment could contribute to human rights violations.”

First National Bank’s report stated that the transaction was for the purchase of a PI2 system, “purportedly on behalf of the Royal Swaziland Police.” Verint’s PI2 system, known as the Grabber, is a highly sophisticated device able to intercept, decrypt and record mobile phone and satellite calls and messages without leaving a trace.

Such a system, noted the report, “would generally be procured through the Government and not private entities” and was “not in line” with Usutu Forest’s business. The transaction was referred to Eswatini’s Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation. In a May 2020 report, years after the Usutu transaction was first reported, the commission noted that the matter was still “under investigation” and that Usutu was thought to be a conduit for the Royal Eswatini Police Service to procure “investigative tools...."


The Engage GI2 has several features:

1. GSM Call Routing: The unit allows the user to route a target phone’s call through the device and into the real GSM network, effectively acting as an invisible “man in the middle” who can eavesdrop on the target’s conversation.

2. Cloning: The device allows the user to clone a target’s phone and make/receive calls and text messages that will appear as if they are coming from the target’s number.

3. SMS: The device allows the user to simulate a cell network, forcing phones over a large area to connect to the device. Once connected, the device is able to capture all text messages sent over that period.

4. Silent call: This function initiates a call to the target phone, turning the phone’s transmitter into a location tracking beacon. While a silent call is active, the target phone is disconnected from the real network, shifted to an unused channel and cannot make or receive any calls. While a silent call is active, the phone appears to be in standby mode and can be used as a tracking device to determine the target’s movements.

5. Eavesdropper: The device allows the user to listen and record audio from the target phone’s handset. As described in the manual, “This functionality turns a target’s own mobile phone against the target by turning it into a ‘bug’. The voice from the target’s mobile is being recorded from the time the mobile starts ringing. The voice will continue to be recorded after the target hangs up.”

6. The device enables its operator to identify potential and known targets and build an intelligence picture in an area of operation. It also can help identify a potential target – it records all calls and SMSes and enables operators to listen to any call that appears relevant. The operator can choose to focus the operation on the targets for ongoing monitoring.

7. It can build an intelligence picture of a known target by intercepting the target’s traffic according to predefined cellular identifiers, keywords and voiceprints. Sought for comments Multi Stake Holder Forum spokesperson Sivumelwano Nyembe said revelations about the government's intrusive surveillance tactics underscore the urgent need for comprehensive political reform.

He said the country needed to engage in a meaningful dialogue that would involve all segments of society and be inclusive, transparent, and respectful of diverse perspectives, ensuring that the voices of all citizens, including activists and marginalized communities, are heard and valued.

The MSF believes that a democratic Eswatini, built on the principles of accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights, is not only desirable but also achievable. It calls on the government to embrace genuine dialogue as a pathway to meaningful change and to demonstrate a sincere commitment to addressing the aspirations and concerns of the people,” Nyembe said.

Government spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo was contacted for a comment and they had not responded at the time of compiling this report. NB: Additional reporting sourced from the Daily Maverick